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Mail Servers: Where in the world…?

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We love data here at Service Objects. We are constantly working to expand and improve on our datasets to further innovate our product lineup. A big part of what makes our Email Validation (EV) service so good is the data that helps drive it. When communicating with a mail server in real-time to verify an email address it helps to know what kind of mail server it is dealing with and if it is trustworthy. Just because an email address is deliverable does not always mean that it is good.  For example, an email may be disposable, vulgar or worse yet, a spamtrap.

Our Email Validation service already keeps track of mail server behavior patterns for millions of domains, which allows us to identify and flag mail servers with malicious activity or servers that have a high association with malicious activity.  In addition to monitoring behavior patterns, we are now focusing on determining the geographic location of the email servers.

What benefits does identifying mail server location offer?

Email addresses can be sent and received from anywhere in the world. They are not anchored to one physical location, and at a glance, one cannot easily discern its geographic origin. Even email addresses with a country code for a Top Level Domain (TLD) can have a global presence and may have servers located in multiple countries.  Fortunately, mail server location data can be derived and aggregated from some of our other datasets. This allows our Email Validation service to better identify potentially malicious mail servers and flag servers from known geographic hot spots.

In addition to helping identify problematic email servers, mail server location data can provide additional insights and benefits. From a marketing and administration perspective, the mail server location data can be used to help identify and organize email addresses for a particular region. The location information can also be used to gain business insights about a company and its location(s). At Service Objects, we are using the additional information to further enhance some of our other services, such as Lead Validation.

Challenges to identifying mail server location information

There are a number of challenges to accurately identifying mail server location information. First, we are identifying the mail server locations of a domain, not attempting to identify where an email message was sent from. This would require more than just a simple email address. However, the location data can be used to help cross-check and verify the legitimacy of an email message. For example, an email message is received, and the headers say that the message was sent from Gmail.com. However, the server IP address in the header does not match any of the known Gmail mail server locations, so chances are the message was spoofed and that it is spam or part of a phishing scam.

Second, trying to identify all of the mail servers for a particular domain is not something that can be done quickly enough for a real-time service where end-users expect sub-second response times. Real-time communication with a mail server can often take several seconds, but trying to identify all the mail servers for a domain from around the world can sometimes take several minutes. For this reason, our DOTS Email Validation service does not include mail server location identification in its suite of real-time checks. Instead, the service relies on background systems that have already collected and identified mail server locations from around the world. This ensures that the service is not bogged down by slow processes and continues to respond normally. While mail server location identification may be too slow for a real-time check, it is a daily process that we perform to ensure our list of locations is up to date. The process is also quick enough that our background processes can routinely check for any new domains that we have not come across before and process them hourly.

Third, if a business has multiple locations, then a typical DNS lookup for a domain will just tell you which mail server(s) to connect to that are closest to your area, and not necessarily tell you about their other mail servers. DNS does this to help ensure that communication is quick and efficient, that way an end-user isn’t trying to communicate with a server on the other side of the country or potentially in a different nation entirely if it doesn’t have to. Part of what makes the location identification process “slow” is that we are looking for mail servers in every major region of the world, and not just in our own local areas.

What’s going on behind the scenes

While our email validation service will currently only display the location(s) of the mail server(s) in the notes of the output when it has been identified, it is doing a lot more with that data behind the scenes. Knowing the IP Addresses and locations of the mail servers means that we can perform cross-checks against more data points in other areas. Service Objects is extremely interested in fraud prevention, so we use this data to check for associations with known proxies, VPNs, bot services and other data points that have ties to malicious activity. The data allows us to check various data driven blacklists and white hat resources against more than a simple email address and domain.  Instead, we can pull back the curtain, so to speak, and dig deeper into the mail server(s) that run behind the scenes. All, while continuing and expanding our server behavior monitorization.

With the addition of this new data, we have added additional NoteCodes to the output from our DOTS Email Validation 3 service. Below is a list of the new notes codes and that have been added:

Code Description Example
11 Countries: The ISO2 country code for the country where the mail server(s) is located. If mail servers are found in more than one country, then all country ISO2 codes will be represented in a pipe-delimited list. JP
12 Region: The region in the country where the mail server(s) is located. The region is commonly returned as a two-character abbreviation. If mail servers are found in more than one region then the value will be a pipe-delimited list of the regions. OS|TY
13 Localities: The name of the locality where the mail sever(s) is located in. If mail servers are found in more than one locality then the value will be a pipe-delimited list of all the localities. Osaka|Tokyo
14 PostCodes: The post code of where the mail server(s) is located. If multiple post codes are found, then the value will be a pipe-delimited list. 543-0062|102-0082

 

For more information about terms for international addresses and locations please check out this previous blog post.

Unlike other NotesCodes where the corresponding NotesDescriptions value will be a human readable flag to describe the note code, the value will instead contain the list of locations found.

Get started testing DOTS Email Validation by downloading a real-time API trial key or sending is a sample list to run for you.

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